CUMMING -- If there is such a thing as a dance studio dynasty in Forsyth County, Niki Jernigan-Watkins may very well sit atop it. Well, maybe not sit. She never sits. There’s no time.
Watkins, or “Miss Niki” as she is often called, always dreamt of opening and running her own dance studio. Now she has three. Cumming Dance Academy is overflowing with awards and recognitions, all while managing to teach young dancers about a well-balanced life.
CDA is a family-oriented studio that has been a fixture in the Cumming community for 13 years. Classes include more than simple dance lessons.
Family and community is an important part of Watkins’ lifestyle and business structure. And it shows. She received more nominations to be included in this series than anyone else in the county.
There are music and theater classes, voice, piano, guitar and non-dancing Broadway lessons, private instruction, wedding dance choreography classes and Etiquette 101. Newer to the roster is Alternative Pathways, a dance program designed for children with special needs.
If the studio services offer many options, Watkins wears just as many hats.
Beginning her training at age 3 with Carol Eason School of Dance and Pritchett-Pippin Studios in Americus, Watkins is classically trained in ballet, jazz, tap and pointe.
Since graduating from Valdosta State University with a bachelor of fine arts in theater/dance, the college has recognized her as a “distinguished alum.”
She has received awards from numerous publications and organizations, including the 2012 Small Business of the Year by the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, and was one of eight named Forsyth’s Business Leaders Under 40 by the Forsyth County News.
Watkins manages to retain high-quality dance and education in her studio while remaining involved in the community and raising her 6-year-old son, Cash.
Question: How are you involved in the community through CDA?
Answer: “I’ve been here for 13 years, and we have three locations. The main one on Tribble Gap Road and another on Elm Street. And a third location opened two years ago on Buford Highway in the Shops at Trammel near Windermere.
“I’m really involved in the community because we’re in so many places. We do events for dancers to perform all over the place. We go to assisted living facilities.
“I’m on the Small Business Advisory Board with the [Cumming-Forsyth County] Chamber of Commerce, and I’m very involved in the chamber.
“We do Flavors of Forsyth and Christmas in Central Park. That’s actually what I’ve been so crazy with these weeks. We start rehearsing for the Christmas show weeks and weeks out. It’s nonstop. So even every 20 minutes I get goes a long way.”
Q: How do you make time for everything?
A: “I’m the only owner, so I work 24 hours a day. And I have a boy. And we put on big productions twice a year, and they’ve really become kind of like staples in the community.
“We get around 5,000 guests for the eight shows. And it’s the same thing the first weekend in June every year.”
Q: What type of idea or business plan do you run CDA with?
A: “I like a production-style show more than just a normal recital where the kids get up, perform and go sit down. It’s more exciting and fun when you’re creating something together.
“I keep the business going just to reach the kids. That’s my main goal. I like to mentor the teenagers, and I have a ton who are like my own now.
“We try to make sure we’re giving the young girls the tools they need to grow up and be successful adults. It is my personal intention to nurture them and make sure they enjoy their time here.
“We’re teaching them far more than dance. It’s self-confidence and leadership. Teamwork.”
Q: Well, you’re obviously more than a dance teacher. How else do you spend your time?
A: “What time? On top of teaching dance full time, I’m on the chamber of commerce board, I’m on the PTO at Cash’s school [in Dawsonville]. And I have a boy. Which is very different than being surrounded by girls at the studio all day.”
Q: What’s something about you that would fascinate people that they might not know?
A: “Some parents might be surprised at how involved I am in the entire process, not just the dance part. I’m working in the office in the mornings. I do a lot on the business side. I don’t delegate a lot.
“Of course, I have a fantastic staff. But the parents who say they don’t always see me at a certain location, they might be surprised to know I’m just as involved.
“We have three locations. I’m always somewhere.”